Proving her inaugural run at federal politics was no one-hit-wonder, Karen Vecchio cruised to an easy victory in Monday’s federal vote.
She will represent the constituents of Elgin-Middlesex-London for a second term after garnering just shy of 31,000 votes, up from 28,000 in 2015.
Liberal hopeful Pam Armstrong was a distant second with just over 14,000 votes.
That is far less than the 17,642 gained by Lori Baldwin-Sands in 2015.
We caught up with a battle-weary Vecchio on Thursday for a lengthy conversation on her local success which was tempered by the failure of leader Andrew Scheer to power past the Justin Trudeau Liberals.
To open the discussion, we asked Vecchio about the strain she underwent running a 40-day campaign marathon.
“You’re going every single day from dusk till dawn. And honestly, the thing that keeps you going is all the volunteers that surrounded you. But physically, you are getting drained, mentally, you’re ready to go. You’re going, going going, but physically, you’re getting tired. But it’s really hard when one time I had a 93-year-old lady who coordinated 16 volunteers. You’re not going to say ‘no.’
“So, I just kind of went to the pace that my volunteers were at. That kept me going every day. Hard, hard, hard, and it was wonderful. I’m surrounded by really hard-working people that motivate me every day.”
How does it feel to have a greater element of support four years after your election in 2015?
“I think that says a lot for the work that we have done here in the constituency, working with my staff. They’re phenomenal. So I think that does a lot for what we do here. And you know, I’ve always been trying, I’ve always been an on-the-ground Member of Parliament.
“I always wanted to make sure that constituents come first. And so I think people recognize that that is our goal and we’re in it together.”
We’re in post mortem time for all parties, do you see a change in your responsibilities?
“You know, I think it is too early to tell. You know, I was a shadow minister (for Families, Children and Social Development) plus a chair (of the Status of Women Committee). I don’t know if that will happen again. And I doubt it will.
“I may be one or the other but at the same time, I’m just going to focus on what we need to do here. When you’re going door-to-door you’re hearing about all of these things whether it’s trade, whether it’s affordability, whatever it may be “So I regardless of whether I’m given another portfolio, I’ve got a lot of work here to do for the constituents.”
So, what are the issues here in Elgin-Middlesex-London?
“You know something, it was about people not being able to pay the bills it really, really was. That was a huge concern.
“I spoke to a lot of our seniors, whether it was in the City of London or whether it was in, in you know, Rodney or wherever it may be in St. Thomas. Seniors are having a really tough time with affordability. So to me, that really makes a difference, because they don’t have the opportunity to go out there and get a job. They’re on a fixed income. I heard a lot about that. And that was a big concern.
“I heard a lot of agricultural producers very concerned with ‘Hey, we need to get our stuff to market.’ And they’re concerned right now as well.”
Monday night, following the election, Justin Trudeau declared he was given a clear mandate by voters. By mid-week, he was a little more conciliatory. Does he now realize he is going to have to work with the other parties?
“When you look at the map, there was an Elections Canada map that was produced yesterday (Wednesday) showing how the country is so divided. You see chunks of dark blue, which are the Conservatives that are throughout the entire central part of the country. You see a mix of blue, red, green and orange on the west coast.”
“You know with the Bloc Québécois having such an incredible election, that’s very concerning because now we have a separatist party that is in control, and will be the third party opposition in the House of Commons.
“We’ve got to be cautious and I am really quite concerned as we’re moving forward, to be honest, because we have a very, very divided country. And I think that our prime minister is going to have to start working with everybody and that everybody’s going to have to listen.
“At the same time, it’s up to us to make sure that we are moving in the right direction as the official Opposition and make sure that we’re addressing those issues as well that we heard at the doors.
And, what about growing rumble of separation heard in Alberta and Saskatchewan?
“It’s so difficult for them right now. I’ve been out there doing different things with some of the Alberta members. And we have to help there. To be honest, I feel somewhat personally responsible too.
“It was the rest of the country that turned their backs on Alberta and Saskatchewan. I feel people do not understand how important they are to our national unity, and how important they are to our economy. And we need to all work together. And what we saw was the great divide from west to east.
“I am really concerned. You know equalization payments have been coming from Alberta for decades. And they have been the one supporting so many other areas. And I just don’t think people really understand where their money comes from.
“Government can’t create a strong economy you need to have private enterprise you need to have manufacturing you need to have all of those different things. And I think we’ve got a great divide on how the economy works here. To me, you need to have it front-end loaded with private jobs so that can get the economy churning.
“And I do not see that happening right now. I’ve never been so concerned about our national unity because I did see it starting to happen six and seven months ago. And we have to work with Alberta and we have to work with Saskatchewan. When I talk to my colleagues from Alberta, it is really difficult for them.”
What problems will be generated by the lack of Liberal representation in those two provinces?
“You’re missing two full provinces from the cabinet table. And that’s really important. That cabinet table makes the decisions. It brings in the voices. And although they have caucus meetings, this is where the things are finally decided with this final conversation.
“I know that they have talked about what are they going to do about missing cabinet ministers. We’ll see what they do. But to be honest, in the last election, the cabinet ministers that were coming from Alberta did not stand up for Alberta. It was so obvious, and so I think we’re going to have to be live for them as well.”
The Conservatives will support Trudeau and the Liberals on building the Trans-Canada pipeline, won’t they?
“It’s the one unifying issue. But, there are three other parties that do not support it. The NDP, the Green Party and the Bloc have all said that it’s not going to be built. This is going to be very, very difficult. Under a majority government, they weren’t able to move forward.
“Now that they recognize that they need to have Alberta and Saskatchewan part of this. They’re indicating that we’re going to, but it’s going to be harder now than it was after the 2015 election to get this built.
“We will support a pipeline. We support the fact that there needs to be an assessment. There needs to be a look at our environment. But, we take out the oil from the ground very ethically and probably the best in the world.
“And, we should be using our own supplies rather than getting things in from Saudi Arabia and Iran and even the United Kingdon. We’re in silly things right now. And so we need to support the people out west and I will do what I can to make sure I work with the Liberals to support this pipeline.”
Justin Trudeau has said there will be no coalition government. How how do you see him move things forward?
“My concern is where are we going to be in the next few years financially? I’m really worried about spending. And I’m really worried about if they’re going to cooperate with the NDP, how much debt are we going to be put in? And what are our deficits going to be like over the next few years, just so that we can play nice in the sandbox?
“So I think we’re going to see a lot of heavy spending just so that we don’t go into an election. That’s one of my concerns. So I’m really worried about our fiscal responsibility as a country.”
And what about the promise of balanced budgets?
“The NDP at least seem to have more of a timeline than the Liberals. But at the same time, we know that they’re talking about very expensive programs that they want to introduce nationally.
“With the Green Party, it was going to be $27 billion for our Pharmacare program. What gets off the table if you’re putting in the full Pharmacare program?
“So those are concerns that I have. Every time that you’re doing that you either have to take something off the table that you’re already providing, or you have to increase your taxes. So at the end of the day, it’s going to be more unaffordable for Canadians. And we may not have the services that people expect that they’re going to get.
“So, I’m very concerned about our national debt. Because at the end of the day, it is going to be generations and generations that are going to have to work that off. And, when the next government comes in to try to fix this mess, it’s going to be a heck of a mess.
“I am concerned but I will do whatever I can just move the issue forward.”
What do you think is the lifespan of this minority government?
“I don’t care if it’s two years or four years, I want to make sure that we’re working together. I really want to make sure we just get stuff done. If they last four years, bravo, good on them.
“That means that they’re working with everybody. You’re working with some people. That being said, to what extent are they making these deals? Because, the longer they last, the more money we may be spending.”
Does a long-term minority government benefit Justin Trudeau in the next federal vote?
“If you look at the map across Canada, the only people that think he held it together was the City of Toronto and the GTA. He didn’t even sweep the 32 Liberal seats they had in Atlantic Canada, they’ve lost some of those.
“If you look at that electoral map and recognize that the City of Toronto is what decided this election, people are going to not look at him as doing a great job. They’re going to say you’ve divided our country and it’s up to you to put it back together.”
What about the promise of electoral reform?
“I’m not asking for electoral reform, I’m fine. We’ve had it (first past the post) for a long time. But, we do see that there are some flaws. And you know, I think it’s also up to us to just make sure we’re doing the right job.
“They talked about proportional representation, which for me, I was really concerned with because it meant that there could be people that lived in Toronto representing the people from Elgin county.
“To me, you need feet on the ground, you need an MP that is representing the people that are neighbours, their friends, their colleagues. That’s what you need when you’re in Ottawa.
“And, that’s something that I think proportional representation misses. They miss the point. And it’s very partisan rather than being about constituents. So, I’m very glad that we’re not going that route.
“But you know something, this is the way our democracy works. I’m fine with it. You know, maybe I wouldn’t be fine with it if I wasn’t your elected MP, but I’m OK with it. And I’m willing to do with it whatever I have to.
“I think we are in a very close-knit community. I look at the City of St. Thomas and I look at the county of Elgin and including Thames Centre because they really have some
“We work really well together. We have 10 mayors and two wardens and the MPP, we work really hard together in this community. And that’s what we’ve got to do. This community is about the people that are in the leadership team. And I’m really proud to be at that same table with all of those, all those people, and I’ll continue to work for them.”
What do you have to do to capture more seats in Ontario?
“My role is to make sure that I connect with more people in London, and not just Elgin-Middlesex-London. We need to expand when there are very few representatives. We had very few MPs already in the GTA area. So the thing is, we’ve got to go in as a party and we’ve got to go in as individuals and break those barriers.
“We’re not going to be just welcomed, or the doors open. We’ve got to open those doors. I think it’s up to us to reopen those doors that may have been closed.
“I won’t blame Doug Ford on this. I look at our representative. Jeff is doing a fantastic job doing what they said they were going to do. I think that there was a lot of campaigning against Doug Ford. And he just got mud slung at him. And he wasn’t even in the darn election.
“But we heard more about Doug Ford than we heard of any other leader, including Andrew Scheer.”
How much of a loss is the defeat of deputy leader Lisa Raitt in Milton?
“You have no idea. Lisa losing was, to me, one of the biggest kicks that we had. That was just terrible. I watched her as part of our caucus. I watched her in our Ontario caucus at national capital. I watched her when I had any issues.
“She has become a really great friend, a mentor. And, you know, anytime I had challenges as a shadow minister, it was Lisa who was always the first person I went to.
“Her and Erin O’Toole because they were from Ontario and they understand. And so losing Lisa is probably one of the worst things in the House of Commons because she works so well with everybody. And, she is that voice of reason.
“I look at all the work she did on SNC Lavalin and anything she did on the justice file. She was really, really strong and as a deputy leader, she stepped in when Andrew wasn’t around in Ottawa.
“She did a phenomenal job. The respect that she had from all of her colleagues, especially within our own caucus was incredible. The country knows that we have lost Lisa Raitt and that’s a big deal.”
Andrew Scheer will undergo a leadership review next year. Is it too early to have a sense of his future in the party?
We have to wait to see what happens when we get back to the House. I think that we have a really strong caucus. I know Andrew would have been a really good prime minister.
“That being said, we need to work really hard together, because we’ve got to look at what it says. I believe in Andrew, I always will believe in Andrew’. But let’s see how the next few months unfold.
“It depends on what the government does and how they proceed. Because we know that they’ve really tried to ruin his brand. And I look at him, he’s just one of the most genuine friends I could have in Parliament.”
You can listen to the entire interview here.
COMMUNITY CELEBRATION DETAILS ANNOUNCED
The date and location for this year’s St. Thomas civic awards presentation has been announced. If you remember, the 46th annual Honours and Awards banquet was originally scheduled for June 13 but was put on hold while the future of the event was the subject of a report presented to council June 17.
The special evening is devoted to recognizing and celebrating groups and individuals whose contributions have enriched community life.
The presentation will now take place on December 11 at the St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre and is open to the public.
Tickets for the dinner and presentation will go on sale shortly at the parks and recreation office at the Joe Thornton Community Centre.
LITTER THE FOCUS OF AN OFFICIAL DAY
On Wednesday of this week Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks indicated May 12 of next year will be the province’s first official day dedicated to the clean-up of litter.
The aim is to keep neighbourhoods, parks and waterways across Ontario clean and free of litter.
According to a release from the minister’s office, Ontario generates a ton of waster per person each year. Much of it is plastic collected along the shores of the Great Lakes.
In that release Yurek noted, “We will be working with partners, communities and businesses from across the province to help make this day a success and encourage everyone to participate in local clean-up events.
“This is an opportunity for all of us to do our part to keep Ontario clean and to raise awareness of the need to reduce how much waste we produce.”
FUTURE OF ELGIN SCHOOLS ON HOLD
At its meeting Tuesday (Oct. 22), Thames Valley District School Board trustees deferred any decision on closure of New Sarum and Springfield public schools until the Nov. 26 meeting.
Trustees had voted in May of 2017 to close the schools in June of next year.
Elgin trustees Meagan Ruddock and Bruce Smith put forth a motion Tuesday to reverse that decision.
The board had voted against allowing public input on the matter – including input from Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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